Lifesavers for Beginners, TLC Book Stop, and Apricot Brandy Bars

Welcome to this stopover of the TLC Book Tour, Lifesaving for Beginners by Anne Edlestien.  I received a complimentary copy of this book from TLC and the author for this review.  All opinions, exclamations, gushings and rants are my own.

About Lifesaving for Beginners

• Paperback: 225 pages
• Publisher: Red Hen Press (November 7, 2017)

When Anne Edelstein was forty-two, her mother, a capable swimmer in good health, drowned while snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. Caring for two small children of her own, Anne suddenly found herself grieving not only for her emotionally distant mother but also for her beloved younger brother Danny, who had killed himself violently over a decade before. She finds herself wrestling not only with the past and her family’s legacy of mental illness, but also with the emotional well-being of her children. Part memoir and part meditation on joy and grief, the book will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to come to terms with their parents, their siblings, their children, and their place in the world.

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Photo by Laura McPhee

About Anne Edelstein

Anne Edelstein has worked in the book publishing business for over 25 years, as an editor and then as a literary agent. She grew up in suburban New England as the eldest of three siblings. When she was 28 she lost her brother to suicide, and 15 years later her mother drowned at the age of 68. These two tragedies gave rise to Lifesaving for Beginners, which is her first book. She lives in New York with her husband, and spends part of each year in Barcelona. She enjoys drawing, reading, writing, and traveling, and is an avid swimmer.

Visit Anne at her website, anneedelstein.com, and connect with her on Facebook.

What I thought…

I enjoy a good memoir.   And although I appreciated Edlestein’s writing style, honesty and transparency,   Lifesaving for Beginners was a struggle for me.  In this slim volume, Edlestein packs in lots of family relationships beset by angst.   She always had a rocky relationship with her mother.   With the sudden and totally unexpected death of her mother, the author writes to heal and find some resolution.   I’m not sure she achieved this.  I think the most telling description in the book is when she refers to her mother’s death as possibly due to “Sudden Death Disorder,” that her mother might have suffered from a state of ecstasy (as she was snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef).  Considering that her mother might have succumbed because joy was something she did not regularly allow herself to experience in life speaks volumes about the family dynamics this outlook might have created.

She had a loving relationship with her younger brother, Danny, and she tries to reconcile his suicide (decades before her mother’s death) as well.   This loss might be the biggest resolution that Edelstein is seeking.  Although the family knew for some time that their youngest member was struggling mentally, Danny was the family darling, cheerleader and comic relief.  She writes that when she and and Ted, her other brother, “lost” Danny on a vacation, she was beset with fear:  ” We had to remain together.   Without one of us, our equilibrium would be lost” (84).

As she struggles with her own issues with death and closure, she must figure out what to tell her young children about these losses and the family history of self-harm.

For my mother, who had absorbed so much fatality, death itself had remained an open, unresolved chapter that just kept on resurfacing and causing more injuries along the way. (48)

She describes her mother’s life in this way but after  reading this memoir, I think Edelstein is terrified this will be her fate as well.  She does not want this family lore to perpetuate or resurface.

As Edlestein is an editor, I found the structure of the memoir to be a bit odd.  Sometimes I felt I was reading a stream-of-consciousness free write.   Sometimes I felt like I was reading stand alone essays loosely strung together with a swimming metaphor.  Such is the nature, I suppose, of a cathartic memoir.

I did enjoy her images of the beach, their vacation homes, and the lily pond.  I also appreciated her transparency and honesty as she comes to grips with more than one family tragedy.

The food.

There is not a focus on food in this memoir and I hesitate to even provide a food angle because of the dark struggle of the author’s family life.  That makes me think I am trivializing Edelstein’s journey.

But, I need to post a recipe so here goes.   The food in the novel follows:  malted milkshake, chocolate ice cream from Schrafft’s, frosted brownies, apricot bars, rugelach, hard boiled eggs, maror and charoset sandwiches, matzah, turkey and pot roast, matzah ball soup, sponge cake with ground nuts, healthy Kosher cookbook, daisy butter cookies with raspberry jam, strawberry shortcake, chocolate cake with white icing, pasta, bagels, cheese, Cadbury chocolate bars, ordered-in pizza, flying saucer ice cream sandwiches.

I lot of the food that she remembers the most fondly involve her grandmother (milkshakes, ice cream, daisy butter cookies, strawberry shortcake).  One passage stuck with me though, and it was how her mother wanted the family to be perceived:

It seemed like being a mother might have been a difficult job for her, not that she ever said that out loud.  It was as if she had to keep moving so she wouldn’t have to think too much about what she was doing.  At home with us she was always busy with cleaning the house, keeping it well-supplied as economically as possible, cooking praiseworthy and nutritious meals and making sure that we were three well-functioning children. (50-51)

She goes on to write that her mother would brag on the phone to her friends about the children’s accomplishments and activities, making them  sound like “model children she was proud of” (51) while handing out recipes.

A recipe for apricot bars was something that she often shared in these phone calls with friends.  I decided to make apricot bars and I used a recipe from Giada de Laurentis as a starting point.

 

Apricot Brandy Bars

Based on a recipe found here.

A comforting bar cookie that is perfect with a comforting cup of tea or morning coffee.

Ingredients

  • 1 c. butter, melted
  • 8 oz. dried apricots, chopped into small pieces (1/4″)
  • 1 (13 oz.) jar apricot preserves
  • 2 oz. apricot brandy
  • 1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. light brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 t. fine sea salt
  • 3/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 3/4 c. old-fashioned oats
  • 1 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 t. pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Melt butter and then set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.   Spray a 9 by 13 by 2-inch metal baking dish with cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the preserves, chopped apricots and brandy. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt and baking soda. Stir in the oats and walnuts. Add the melted butter (cooled slightly), egg and vanilla and stir until incorporated.
  5. Lightly press half of the crust mixture onto the bottom of the lined pan. Spread the filling over the crust leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the pan. Crumble the the remaining crust mixture over the filling and gently press to flatten.
  6. Bake until light golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for 1 hour. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Yield: 24 bars

I adapted the original recipe by added more dried apricots, the brandy, and the ginger to the crust.   These bars are delicious and I would love to further adapt them using different types of dried fruits and jams.

This is a slim book (225 pages) and if dark contemplative memoirs are your cup of tea, pour yourself a mug, grab an apricot bar and delve in.

 

Please check out the other reviews and stops.

Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 25th: Tina Says…

Wednesday, September 26th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Thursday, September 27th: Dreams, Etc.

Friday, September 28th: Peppermint PhD

Monday, October 1st: Openly Bookish

Wednesday, October 3rd: Instagram: @libraryinprogress

Thursday, October 4th: Instagram: @thats_what_she_read

Monday, October 8th: Comfy Reading

Tuesday, October 9th: What Is That Book About

Wednesday, October 10th: Instagram: @crystal_clears_the_shelves

Friday, October 12th: Instagram: @bookwormmommyof3

Monday, October 15th: Eliot’s Eats

Tuesday, October 16th: Literary Quicksand

Tuesday, October 16th: Instagram: @thesaggingbookshelf

Wednesday, October 17th: A Bookish Affair

Thursday, October 25th: bibliotaphs

 

I am also linking up with Foodies Read.

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